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Friday, November 10, 2006

Darwin Loves You: and has a wonderful plan for your life?

A kind reader who makes assiduous notes sends me some quotations from George Levine's new book, Darwin Loves You, which offers bonbons such as the following to its readers:
For both Darwin and Daniel Dennett, natural selection is not literally an agent, but for both in effect it does the work of God. A demetaphorized (or remetaphorized) God emerges in the most hard-nosed contemporary advocates of the mindlessness of nature, and this ‘power ‘ becomes indispensable in rebuilding nature from scratch. (p. 59)

Whichever version of "natural selection" one takes, Darwin’s story of origins has become an inescapable alternative to "In the beginning… (p. 59)

In the face of the Weberian narrative of disenchantment, in which the absence of a "divine creator," of a teleology, expels meaning from the world and leaves it barren, such controlled forgetfulness is particularly important. (p. 69)

More simply, the possibility of a naturalistic enchantment emerges as crucial alternative to supernaturalist religion, which does so much harm when it imposes its norms on a secular polity. (p. 70)

Natural selection is a radically materialist reading of the world’s processes, and it would seem to require the greatest ingenuity to use it in support of religious views—yet, this too, has certainly been done. (p. 74)

He [Pinker], like naturalists of many stripes, but perhaps with a bit more aggression, wants to eliminate from our understanding of science, nature, and humanity any of the conventional assumptions about the god in the machine, about spirituality and nonnatural causes. (It’s important to recognize that virtually everyone involved in the debates on these issues except the creationists themselves is committed to secular explanation if not to aggressively secular visions of the world.) (p. 98)

The way the world works is scary, and Daniel Dennett too insists that the scariness has to be faced. Darwin’s ‘dangerous idea,’ he says, explodes many of the great moral ideas of humanity. His book on Darwin, then, ‘is for those who agree that the only meaning of life worth caring about is one that can withstand our best efforts to examine it” (20-21). (pg. 101)

Scientifically and ideologically, there is no escaping the battle over reductionism. Wilson, Dawkins, and Pinker—the most prominent (or widely published) figures in the public arguments for sociobiology and evolutionary psychology—all claim proudly to be reductionists… (p. 103)

[E.O. Wilson’s book] Consilience is important here in part because it is so clearly written with a moral and even spiritual goal. (p. 108)

[T]he ultimate enchantment, a self-conscious displacement of religion, is a vision—one can call it no less than visceral and passionate—of universal order, where Darwin’s laws are no longer "higgledy piggledy" but the expression of an ultimately unified and coherent world. Consilience is a book driven by rage for order. (p. 125)

I want to think of Darwin’s life not as saintly but as evidence for the possibilities of "nontheistic enchantment." (pp. 129-130)


A friend, Notre Dame graduate student James Barham, who sometimes notices this sort of thing, also writes me to say,
The book is superficial, and would not really be worth our notice, were it not for the fact that it can be used as Exhibit A for the claim that Darwinism has become a religion, or at the very least, a "comprehensive doctrine" in Rawls's sense, and hence something that a liberal democracy ought not to impose on its citizens by force.

Yes, exactly. As a traditionally religious person, I cannot believe the rubbish people write about that Victorian toff Darwin. It's almost as if they need a God but don't realize that the white beard is merely a fact of nature and does not confer, um, theism (Godhood?). If they don't need a God, they don't need one, but if they do, why make Darwin God? There are certainly better claimants out there.
My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

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